Since the Middle Ages, spinster has been used to insult women who control their destinies
The term ‘spinster’ is outdated in more ways than one.
We all know one, or have one in the family – the super-cool, unmarried aunt who buys you the best gifts, or a second cousin on your dad’s side who has a propensity for travelling to exotic places and talking about their wild experiences at university (usually involving threesomes).
Such women are discussed at family get togethers with pursed lips: “Oh yes, Marge, never married. Never did get round to having kids.” Then, in hushed tones: “She’s a spinster.”
As if it’s a dirty, terrible, horrible thing to experience the latter half of your life childless and unmarried. Such people clearly aren’t familiar with the history of women in the Middle Ages, and maybe they should be.
Back in the Middle Ages, wool and wool spinning was a key trade. It underpinned so much of civilisation, and the sexism of the time required that a ‘spinning woman’ did the work – a role that was meant to be demeaning, but actually worked out very well for women indeed.
As women were considered lower than dogs, they were unable to hold any high positions in society. Especially when it came to money and business. Spinning wool was considered a menial task, so women were employed to spin wool to make garments and the like.
The job was paid incredibly well, and meant that a woman could live comfortably by herself as an independent woman of independent means. A spinning woman spinning her way to freedom. A spinster.
She didn’t have to tolerate the yoke of a loveless marriage. She didn’t have to churn out hundreds of children or risk dying in childbirth. Instead, she was able to support herself financially. She – and women like her – should have been applauded and potentially even envied by their peers, not insulted.
To those who continue to use ‘spinster’ as a word meant to degrade – shame on you. A woman being able to support herself financially and emotionally is no bad thing. Not everyone wants to find a husband and give birth to a heaving empire.
Desist with any hate you may harbour for older, unmarried women, even if you thought the use of ‘spinster’ as an insult was casual. Because you can bet your bottom dollar these women are not hating on you. They’re too busy travelling the world, making wonderful memories and having threesomes.
Tagged in: fascinating history